Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Stin ygeia mas

There are hard times coming in Greece because of the general economic crisis. But Greeks are not people who immediately give up to sit and simmer. And especially not before the 40 days of Lent and Easter: it is time for carnival when, for a while, all problems are swept aside.

The carnival (apokries) in Greece lasts about three weeks. The first week is for getting into the mood, in the second week mostly meat is eaten. The top day of that week is tsiknopempti or Smoked Thursday when Greeks light up their grills and eat lots and lots of meat. The third week is the cheese week, so lots of dairy products are eaten. This week concludes with the big weekend of carnival and the festivities come to a close with Clean Monday (kathari devteri) on February 15.

People who do not have too much money, or who do not fancy going out to party, can stay home and turn on the television. Last tsiknopempti the popular Greek music program ‘Stin ygeia mas’ broadcast a special program as a contribution to the festivities: singing, dancing and making fun, that is always the message of this amazing live program.

Since 2005, on one of the biggest Greek tv-channels NET, the program has been running for three hours every Saturday night. Imagine a long row of tables (each year with ever more fancy table cloths). Behind the tables are the guests: a wide variety of singers, musicians and the host, Spiros Papadoupolo, an actor you will see in a lot of tv-serials. After the introductions, the first singer gets on stage (where there is an orchestra), takes the microphone and the show begins.

If you want to learn the vast collection of Greek popular songs, you have to watch this program each week. Most of the songs are very well known so guests and host can sing along. After a year viewing ‘Stin ygeia mas’ I am sure you will know most of the songs.

Not only do they sing on stage, but also from the tables, and when the evening really warms up, flowers are thrown at the singers. In Greece they used to throw plates and dishes (on the floor) to encourage a beautiful performance by an artist, or because they sang a favourite song. But smashing crockery is maybe not without danger. Years ago plate throwing was forbidden so nowadays people throw flowers. But we know the Greeks, so even on a national television program such as ‘Stin ygeia mas’ the occasional stack of dishes will be shattered into a thousands pieces on the dance floor.

The same faces reappear in the program but some very big artists can also be seen as guests on the program — like Georgos Dalares, Yannis Parios or Kostas Xatsis. Or sometimes they have really special guests like the singing priest or a group of folk dancers with very young members. The situation sometimes can get quite turbulent, which can be very amusing. Have a look at the table dance’ and or the comic ‘broom dance’!

In Holland you will never see a program on television where guests sing so loud without any embarrassment, get drunk and dance the night away. But this is how a Greek evening is. Be it at a wedding, a special dinner or a television program, when there is live music, there is always singing and dancing, on the dance floor, besides the dinner tables or amongst the dishes on the table.

‘Stin ygeia mas’ is not always as entertaining. There are nights when there only old people are featured, who do not smile often so then you have to hope it’s the music that’s enchanting. But when Dimitris Starovas or Yannis Zouganelli are at the tables you can be sure that the evening will bring a lot of fun and sparkling music.

There are also moments when everybody behind the long tables falls quiet, because of a beautiful performance like the one of Iro Lechouriti. And sometimes it’s not all Greek songs but Spanish songs accompanied by Spanish dances; or pop songs or songs with a pretty foreign sound, from a group like Cabaret Balkan.

It is clear that there is music in the Greek blood. The Rebetiko is a popular Greek music style that was formed at the beginning of the 20ste century, a distillation of the Turkish music that the Greek refugees from Smyrna brought with them when they were expelled from Turkey, plus the music style already existing in Piraeus. In the twenties Rebetiko was the ‘blues of Greece’, played in hashish den and all over the poor quarters of the big cities. (TB: Rebetiko was also frowned upon by the Colonels). Many Rebetiko songs are played in ‘Stin ygeia mas’, although young people probably think they are old fashioned. I am sure that with the current crisis Rebetiko will have another revival, like in the Sixties.

Singing aloud with a longing in the heart for the good old years, that is what Greek entertainment is all about. It is something that we are going to need very badly in the coming days.

(Thanks to Tony Barrell)

@ Smitaki 2010


  1. I've been reading your posts for a long time but have only just discovered the comment box. Just wanted to thank you for all your posts, sometimes I don't agree with your point of view but that hardly matters, be dull if we all always thought the same. Always enjoy reading your news of Lesvos, have visited on and off for over 15 years and though the island has changed it's not changed to the extent the rest of our world seems to have. Keep posting.

  2. Good article. I would disagree, however, with your comment on the shows with the older guests not being as entertaining. Did you see the show which featured Xanthippe Karathanasi? Most of the guests were well over sixty years old, and they had one of the best parties I've seen on that show. We have a lot to learn from the old-timers--even on how to have a good time.

  3. Please please please can you tell me what the theme song for Stin ygeia mas is called and who sings it. My email address is andrew.mavropoulos@gmail.com . Thanks a lot :)

  4. Μανώλης Μητσιάς - Στην υγειά μας